Tor.com content by

Trisha Low

Vampires, Favorites, and 90’s Aesthetics in Catherine Yu’s Direwood

“So, how do you feel about the ‘90s being back,” a friend asked me a few days ago, watching a teen dressed head-to-toe in velvet cross the street. To which I replied, “it’s nbd to me, baby. I kind of never left.”

Too-glib of an answer, maybe, for someone on the later side of being a millennial, but I was sporting spaghetti straps and a friendship bracelet that day, and the truth is, my loyalty to the ‘90s has genuinely never waned. Between the high-waisted mom jeans that I refused to give up for scene-kid skinnies, to the sullen disaffection that dominated my CD collection; sometimes, you just have to admit that the stuff you were saturated in as an adolescent did, in fact, leave an indelible stain on Your Whole Deal. Just no fighting it, for better or for worse.

No surprise then, that when Direwood, Catherine Yu’s young adult debut and self-purported “velvet-clad 1990s gothic horror” showed up, featuring a charming vampire and a slew of teenage disappearances, I snapped instantly to attention.

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Shallow, Ambient Fantasy: Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage

The much-anticipated follow up to Ling Ma’s post-apocalyptic novel, Severance, Bliss Montage is a collection of eight short stories that aren’t strictly related so much as affectively continuous. Written with straightforward uncanniness that only serves to confound fundamental issues of belonging (but where?), alienation (from whom?) and the ambivalence symptomatic to late-stage capitalism (ubiquitous), it’s not so much a topical departure from Ma’s debut novel as it is a formal one.

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Without Fear of Certain Death: Alex White’s August Kitko and the Mechas From Space

It’s the year 2657 and August “Gus” Kitko is a jazz pianist with a front seat to the end of the world. Like the string quartet playing a swan song on the deck of the sinking Titanic though, he’s doomed not to live out his last days with friends, or family, or even in the comfort of his own home, but at a lavish party hosted by Earth’s richest. At the estate of Lord Elisa Yamazaki in Monaco, Gus is the hired entertainment for a victory party meant to celebrate the Dictum, a warship designed to eliminate the alien mechas, or Vanguards that have for years now threatened the extinction of humanity.

Of course, the Dictum is only a symptom of the United Worlds goverment’s giant hubris; it’s cast aside in the first battle like scrap metal, leaving only hours for the Vanguards to regroup before they inevitably commit intergalactic genocide. Gus is left amongst insipid apocalypse partiers drinking their last hours away. Standing at the edge of a cliff, he wonders if he should take his own life before he’s casually slain. Only of course, the fall might not kill him and he’d be leaving his half-dead body to the mercy of marine life or seagulls, and as we can all concur, “seagulls are assholes.”

Believe it or not, all of this occurs in the first few pages of August Kitko and the Mechas from Space, a rapidly shifting stunner of a space opera novel that is more delightful whiplash than languidly-paced tragedy.

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A Close View of the Post-Apocalypse: David Yoon’s City of Orange

I’ve become weirdly allergic to the post-apocalyptic novel in our year of 2022. Can you blame me? With the climate crisis on our heels and Elon Musk allegedly buying Twitter; The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay at the protest and a conservative resurgence eating away at a gamut of civil rights, our collective sense of doom is basically quotidian. The goal of dystopic fiction has always been to amplify and make strange the problematics of our world, but these days, it’s far more difficult for the acerbic, surreal quality of writing like Ling Ma’s masterpiece Severance to hit. Especially when it seems it’s almost every other day that I’m texting a friend about the news like, ‘you can’t make this shit up.’

Let’s admit it. Perhaps the gap between our fantasies of the end of the world and current reality has simply become too narrow for the practice of reading post-apocalyptic fiction to be… entirely comfortable.

But enter David Yoon’s City of Orange, a book that takes on exactly this End-Times issue of being unable to tell the imagined from the truth. Its tantalizing premise: what if you found yourself stranded in the post-apocalypse with no memory of how things were before? All alone—with the rest of humanity obliterated and no access to any history, cultural or social reference points. Would it be possible to discern what’s real from what’s not as events unfold, absurd, all around you?

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Hunger — Fickle and Radical: Claire Kohda’s Woman, Eating

Lydia is just another twenty-something year old living in London. Fresh out of art school and trying to hazard a trajectory through the world, she finally washes her hands of her mother, who’s in ailing mental health, by committing her to a home in Margate. She nabs an internship at a prestigious gallery, the OTA, rents a studio in a collective artists’ space and wills herself to refine her aesthetic practice. She yearns for community, but more often than not finds herself alone, scrolling food videos on Youtube. So far so familiar. Only there’s a catch. Lydia is a vampire.

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A Catalogue of Touches: Friendship, Loss, and What’s Left Behind in Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons

I know next to nothing about Lexington, Kentucky upon landing there.

My journey isn’t arduous so much as paranoid and antiseptic with pandemic travel. A red-eye from the Bay Area to a layover in Minneapolis, sandwiched in the giddy moment between being “fully-vaccinated” and the threat of the Delta variant. Less than six feet away, a mom “fixes” the masks of her children by pulling the fabric firmly beneath their noses. I try not to react. After all, ten years into living in the US, there are still places whose contours and interior currents I haven’t encountered, cannot pretend to grasp. The woman’s hair glints a straw yellow. Discomfort washes my face out like sky in the tint of airplane light.

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